Just For Fun

Over The Hill With No Brakes

This week I’ll observe—if not exactly “celebrate”—my 70th birthday. It’s one of those milestones that prompts unappreciated comparisons to certain large extinct reptiles and not-so-smart remarks about being “over the hill.”

So let me tell you a true “over the hill” story.

The distance from Raton, NM, to Trinidad, CO, is 25 miles. Driving those miles on Interstate 25 means climbing the long, steep, curving grade through Raton Pass and descending the even longer, steeper, curving grade to Trinidad. In April of 2002, my husband Wayne and I drove through Raton Pass on our way home from a three-month construction job in Arizona. He was driving a semi. I was driving a one-ton pickup, pulling a 30-foot fifth wheel camper. He had to stop with the truck at the port of entry near Raton, so I went on ahead over the pass.

This trip was only the third time I had towed the camper and the first time I had driven it in mountains. My training for this experience consisted of two pieces of advice. One, slow down with your gears, not your brakes. Two, the lowest gear you need to shift down to when you’re going up a steep grade is the same gear you should use when you go down.

Thus prepared, I drove up and up, shifting down and down until I ran out of gears. I tried to ignore all the other vehicles passing me as I climbed more and more slowly, until I finally topped the pass. Now came the truly terrifying part—going down the other side. I kept reminding myself to slow with my gears. Occasionally I had to remind myself to breathe. But all in all, it wasn’t too bad. I made it safely all the way down, all the way through Trinidad, and out onto the prairie on the other side, feeling greatly relieved and somewhat close to competent.

That feeling lasted until Wayne came up behind me a few miles later, called on the radio, and told me to pull over and stop. Which was when I learned that I had driven through Raton Pass with no brakes on the trailer. He had disconnected them to save the battery when we stopped for the night and forgot to reconnect them.

Had I known I had no trailer brakes on that long steep grade, I would have panicked. Since I didn’t know, I just kept driving innocently along, with no clue that my confidence in my equipment was misplaced. I just kept following the only instructions I had–which, fortunately, turned out to be quite applicable to the situation. I was also lucky. It’s the most vivid demonstration I’ve ever experienced of the saying, “Ignorance is bliss.”

At the time, I was also ignorant of many other things. I didn’t know that, six months later, Wayne would be killed in a plane crash. I didn’t know that I would eventually find another happy relationship that would also end in sorrow. I didn’t know about the family weddings, the births of grandchildren, and all the other joyful and painful life events and changes still to come.

In the years since, traveling all the unexpected curves and steep grades that shape a life, I’ve left behind the luxury of living in ignorant bliss. I now understand that all of us are mostly muddling our way along with insufficient information and incomplete instructions. At times, we’re all driving through difficult terrain with no brakes. Sometimes we know it and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we’re lucky and sometimes we aren’t. Either way, about all we can do is keep on going.

Even when we flinch at milestones that loom up along our roads much faster than we could possibly have expected—like birthdays that make it impossible to pretend we don’t qualify for the senior discount. Birthdays that make clear life is apt to be mostly downhill from here on, and the brakes wore out several hills back. It’s a challenge to accept that knowledge without panicking. It’s another challenge to figure out the “how” of navigating that road.

I’m still working on both. But a few weeks ago, I encountered a bit of wisdom that I intend to rely on as I go forward. I know it’s deep and profound, because I saw it on a bumper sticker.

On one side was an image of a Buddha-like figure sitting serenely in the lotus position. On the other side were six words. At the top: “Do No Harm.” Below that: “Take No Shit.”

That’s it. That’s my new life plan.

First, to “Do no harm.” Because there is already more than enough pain in the world without my adding to it. I never know what hardships and heartaches other people may be facing. I never know when someone else is driving with no brakes. It’s my responsibility to be accepting of and respectful to those around me.

Second, to realize that “Do no harm” is meaningless without its flip side: “Take no shit.” “Do no harm” is not the same as “let people run over you.” Accepting others is not the same as accepting unacceptable behavior from those who are mean or careless. One of the people entitled to be treated with respect is me.

If, at age 70 and beyond, you can’t speak up for yourself, stand up for what matters, and say what you really think—then when are you going to do it? At this point, what is there to lose? Not having a lot to lose is a powerful place to be.

Heading downhill with no brakes? One word for that is “terrifying.” A better one is “unstoppable.”

Categories: Just For Fun | 3 Comments

A Post is a Post is a Peony Bush

Social media, like a refrigerator door, can be a place to show off accomplishments. It’s also, like an old-fashioned telephone party line, a place to eavesdrop on other people’s random conversations. These are both apt analogies. I’m sure of it, because I’ve made both of them myself.

But after several months of regular morning walks with my daughter and her dog, I’ve stumbled across another apt analogy. Social media is like a tree. Or a fence post, a light pole, a bush, a lawn ornament, a rock, or a clump of grass. Anything, in short, where dogs stop to check the pee-mail.

People sit at their computers or sprawl over their phones and browse the internet, scrolling through social media until a post catches their attention. Dogs trot along the neighborhood sidewalks, strolling through the landscape until a post catches their attention. Whether browsers are using their thumbs or their noses, the goal is the same: checking for updates and messages.

Some messages are worth only a cursory human glance or a perfunctory canine sniff. Others merit a little more attention. From a human, perhaps a quick “like” or “share.” From a dog, a longer sniff and a brief liquid comment.

Other posts demand much more involvement. For people, this means watching or reading with increasing excitement and agitation, and then responding. Perhaps with strings of hearts, hugs, other sweet emojis, and lots of exclamation points. Or perhaps with rants featuring words like “idiot,” aspersions on the original posters’ education and ancestry, and lots of exclamation points. Or they might go down virtual rabbit holes, obsessively following one link after another until their internet trance is interrupted by a boss needing something like actual work or a child needing something like actual dinner.

Dogs take in their attention-grabbing posts with intent sniffing from several different angles, growing more excited and agitated with every nose twitch. Their replies take the form of a prolonged, focused stream. Then they punctuate their communication with a vigorous bout of backward grass-scratching—flying bits of debris apparently being the canine equivalent of emojis and exclamation points. Or they might try to go down literal rabbit holes, obsessively digging and sniffing until they are tugged away by the person on the other end of the leash who has the mistaken impression that walking with the dog is about exercise.

For both humans and dogs, all this posting comes down to a simple matter of messages received and messages sent. Balance is achieved; all is well. Until the next day, when it’s essential to return and check the same posts for updates. Especially when a post is your own. Even if you illogically and unreasonably publish something snarky about social media—using social media.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Who Moved Midnight?

Nobody moved midnight, really. It’s still where it’s always been, right there in the dark between 11:59 p.m. and 12:01 a.m. Just as noon is where it’s always been, right there in the middle of the day at lunchtime. (Or right after lunchtime, for those of us who wake up ready for breakfast at 5:00 a.m. and are consequently ready for lunch by 11:15. We’re the same people who have to take midnight on faith, because we haven’t seen it in person since New Year’s Eve at the beginning of the current millennium.)

But in recent years, somebody has been messing with 12:00 o’clock. Instead of the clear and simple designations of noon and midnight, I’m noticing more and more references to 12:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m.

This usage is confusing. Does 12:00 a.m. mean noon and 12:00 p.m. mean midnight? Or is 12:00 a.m. midnight while 12:00 p.m. is noon? Depending on what you see as the starting point for the 12-hour clock, you could make a case for either one.

And in either case, you would be illogical and incorrect. For the same reason the weather app on my phone was illogical and incorrect the other morning when it informed me that the outside temperature was “minus zero” degrees.

No, it wasn’t. Zero is neither plus nor minus. It is the dividing line between plus and minus. Like an impartial referee, it doesn’t get to take sides.

When it comes to clocks, 12:00 is equivalent to zero. Noon and midnight cannot be a.m. or p.m.; they are the dividing lines between a.m. and p.m. The terms are abbreviations for ante meridiem, (before midday) and post meridiem (after midday). Midday—aka noon—cannot be before or after itself.

Who can we blame this misusage on? Computers, of course. Because digital devices, bless their little one-or-zero hearts, get confused by things that are neither one nor the other. They don’t want to have to deal with the neutral second in between a.m. and p.m. or the neutral zero in between minus and plus.

My phone and my computer claim that noon is 12:00 p.m. and midnight is 12:00 a.m. (So, by the way, does the style guide for the United States Printing Office.) My relatively ancient clock radio also believes midnight is 12:00 a.m., a fact of which I was unpleasantly reminded last night when the alarm that I believed I had set for 5:00 a.m. shrilled at midnight.

Both my microwave and my stove avoid the issue altogether. Possibly they assume users will be able to tell the difference between a.m. or p.m. based on whether they’re scrambling eggs, steaming broccoli, or making popcorn.

I don’t know what the clock in my new car thinks. According to the manual, I can set the clock to either a 12-hour or a 24-hour format and also set it to remind me of birthdays and anniversaries. As if I’m going to attempt that; I just barely know which of the numbers on the intimidating dashboard display is the time. Learning how to set the clock can wait until after I’ve managed to figure out how to adjust the heat, defrost the windshield, and unlock the passenger doors.  

Are noon and midnight lost to us forever? Are they, like sundials and clocks with hands and faces, to be inevitably ground to extinction by the relentless jaws of technology? Not necessarily. That same technology, at this point, is probably sophisticated enough to easily be programmed to show 12:00 as midnight and noon rather than a.m. and p.m. Or we could sidestep the whole issue by switching to the much more logical 24-hour clock. (Not a likely solution any time soon, given our country’s persistent resistance to the metric system used by much of the rest of the world.)

For now, we’re stuck between the midnight/noon logic of human beings and the a.m./p.m. logic of computers. When dealing with digital devices, it’s a good idea to mind their p’s and a’s and figure out which applies to the middle of the day and which to the middle of the night. When dealing with human beings, it’s an even better idea—no matter what your digital devices say—to be clear about whether you mean noon or midnight.

If, for example, you schedule a top-secret assignation in an unfrequented corner of the park for 12:00 p.m., you’d better specify that you mean noon, not midnight. Otherwise your clandestine compatriot could be left in the dark for hours, standing behind a tree clutching a fading pink carnation and a copy of War and Peace, waiting in vain for the secret code.

P.S. Remember to “fall back” this weekend, since Daylight Saving Time ends November 1. At 2:00 a.m., to be precise. (Years ago, my father joked to a group of friends that the thing he hated about DST was staying up till 2:00 a.m. to change the clocks. A woman apparently lacking a sense of humor assured him solemnly that it was perfectly okay to just change the clocks before he went to bed.) But whether you adjust your clocks on October 31 at bedtime or on November 1 either  at 2:00 a.m. or after you’ve realized why you’re at church an hour early, don’t worry too much about your digital devices. They can reset themselves.  

Categories: Just For Fun | Leave a comment

Civic Chickens and Backyard Weed

As a conscientious voter, I try to do my research before I fill in a single oval on my ballot. This year, the most challenging decisions for me were the two initiated measures for legalizing marijuana in South Dakota.

Full disclosure: I came of age during the Age of Aquarius. My hair was long and straight. I wore miniskirts, bell-bottom jeans, and a peace-sign necklace as big as a rodeo queen’s belt buckle. I knew at least four guitar chords in the key of C and all the words to “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

However, I never once used pot.

I still have no interest in using pot. At the same time, I think it’s idiotic to put people in jail for using it. At the same time, I think it probably has genuine medicinal value but tend to believe medicinal substances are best obtained through pharmacies. At the same time, I question the common sense of legalizing at the state level a substance that is still illegal under federal law.

You can see why I pondered so much over the pot proposals on the ballot. Until last week, when suddenly all became clear, and I made my decisions.

What happened was this: the city council approved the first reading of an ordinance to allow residents to raise chickens in their back yards.

There is a connection here. Really. Just stay with me for a minute.

Continue reading
Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun, Wild Things | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Runaway St. Patrick’s Pancakes

Sourdough pancakes are a tradition in my family. They’re almost always on the menu when the kids and grandkids come over for Sunday breakfast, as they did this weekend.

To make the pancakes, you mix the starter—flour, water, yeast, and sugar—the night before. You let it work and raise and bubble overnight, then in the morning add the rest of the ingredients and cook your pancakes. So on Saturday night, I set out to make starter for a triple batch.

Remembering that the next day would be St. Patrick’s Day, I dumped in some green food coloring. Then it occurred to me that it might be fun to make shamrock-shaped pancakes, and I started considering the easiest ways to flip them. Maybe I was thinking too much about these things, because before I knew it I hadn’t just made starter, but had mixed in all the ingredients for finished pancakes.

Drat. Oh, well; if I let it set overnight it should still be okay. Just to be sure, I dumped in an extra tablespoon or three of yeast. Then I left the big stainless steel bowl of batter on the counter to work its magic.

It worked, all right. The next morning, when I walked into the kitchen, this is what I saw: Continue reading

Categories: Food and Drink, Just For Fun | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

The Heart Rate-Boosting Exercise of Tidying Up

Tidying up. It’s a concept I strongly favor—well, at least theoretically. I have to admit I haven’t gotten around to reading Marie Kondo’s book yet, though I do practice a couple of ideas gleaned from it in a second-hand way.

One of the reasons I haven’t read it yet, I suspect, is the title. Oh, don’t get me wrong—I think The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a terrific title. “Magic,” of course, implies that change might be as easy as waving your wand or wiggling your nose. Then there’s “tidying up,” which is such a non-threatening concept. It sounds so doable, so manageable, so much less overwhelming than the huge, where-do-I-start tasks implied by “cleaning up” or “clearing out.” I’m just afraid that the process actually described inside the book might not be so simple and might involve actual effort.

I like the idea of “tidying up” as a dainty, leisurely, lady-of-the-manor phrase. It implies merely a little adjusting or patting into place. Just straighten a couple of pillows over here, pick up a coffee cup (Limoges or Wedgewood, presumably) over there, pinch the dried blossoms off of the begonia, and all is order and serenity.

In reality, of course, “tidying up” is what you suddenly feel a need to do if you get a text from a friend: “On my way, 10 min?”, or you suddenly realize you invited people for dinner at 6:00 rather than 6:30, or you glance out the window and see your in-laws’ car in the driveway.

The ensuing process is something like this:

Cram dirty dishes into the dishwasher, regardless of whether the ones already in there are dirty or clean. Continue reading

Categories: Just For Fun, Living Consciously | Tags: | 2 Comments

After the Last Snowflake Falls

When it’s spring in South Dakota, April showers frequently have to be shoveled. New Easter outfits, just like Halloween costumes, are best designed to be worn with winter coats. According to our outside thermometer, it was six degrees at six o’clock this morning. That’s enough to make even the most optimistic crocus decide to pull up roots and head south.

Weather like this, life-threatening for newborn calves, causes serious work and worry for farmers and ranchers. For those of us who don’t have to go out in the snow to rescue half-frozen babies whose mothers don’t appreciate the help, spring snow is merely an inconvenience. It won’t last long, and shoveling it is good exercise.

But still. One can’t help but feel a teeny, tiny bit abandoned when, with suspiciously convenient timing, one’s sweetheart and snow-shoveling partner just happens to be “working” in California during the two early April snowfalls. Just as he was “working” in Nevada during the late March snowfall.

I couldn’t help it. While I was doing my solitary shoveling, my emotions overflowed into song. Here it is, with appreciation and/or apologies to Freddy Fender. (If “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” hasn’t already started up in your brain, you can listen to it here.)


After the Last Snowflake Falls

If it brings you happiness while you shovel, then I guess
There’s no reason why you need me there at all.
Do your workout in the snow
While upon the beach I go,
But I’ll be there after the last snowflake falls.

I’ll be there any time the sun shines on the drive
To melt away the snow long before I can arrive.
So if the white stuff makes you blue,
Just remember I love you,
And I’ll be there after the last snowflake falls.

Categories: Just For Fun, Odds and Ends | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

So a Gas Gauge Optimist Walks Into a Service Station . . .

Do you see the tank as half full or half empty?

The gas tank in your car, I mean. This is not a philosophical question; it’s a practical one. Because those happy-go-lucky optimistic drivers who see the tank as half full and those careful pessimistic drivers who see it as half empty are destined to marry one another. Or at least to travel or car pool with one another. It’s car karma.

Here are some signs that you might be a gas gauge optimist:

1. When the idiot light—er, excuse me, the “low fuel indicator light” comes on, your first thought is, “I can drive for 40 more miles on what’s left in the tank.” This thought does not correlate in any way to the actual fuel economy of your vehicle. You think it whether you drive a mini-something that gets 47.3 mpg or a supersized SUV that averages 7.3 mpg.

Continue reading

Categories: Just For Fun, Travel | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

The Barefoot Princess

It has been pointed out that everything Fred Astaire did on the dance floor, Ginger Rogers did too—backwards and in high heels.

I was reminded of this recently, watching one of my granddaughters not long before her third birthday. In a pretty pink dress, she was riding her little pink princessy scooter. Not in high heels, of course. In bare feet, with nail polish on each rather grubby toe.

Starting in the driveway, she would charge uphill on the sidewalk—more a slight slope than a steep rise, but uphill nevertheless—driving the scooter as hard as one hard-working little foot could make it go. At the end of the street she would turn, perch on the scooter, and hurtle back downhill. Grinning with glee, her hair and skirt flying, she would go faster and faster, then swerve at the last minute and screech to a halt just before she ran into the mailbox. More Evel Knievel, perhaps, than Ginger Rogers.

Being dressed like a little lady only proved to be a problem once. When she crouched low on the scooter on one of her runs, no doubt trying for maximum acceleration, the back of her skirt wound itself up in the back wheel. She couldn’t stand up until she was untangled by the combined efforts of Mom and Dad.

Who didn’t tell her to slow down, to be careful, to not be so wild, or in any other way to “play like a girl.” They merely suggested that, if she wanted to sit down on the scooter, shorts might be more practical than a skirt. As soon as she was extricated, she took off up the hill to make another run—standing up that time.

It is gratifying to see little girls like my granddaughters growing up in a world where being “girly”—enjoying prettiness and dressing up and all the femininity those things imply—is completely compatible with being strong, playing hard, and taking risks. As well as dealing with and learning from the scrapes and bruises that sometimes result.

What Ginger Rogers did in high heels was certainly impressive. Just think what she might have been able to do in bare feet. With or without nail polish.

Categories: Just For Fun | Leave a comment

Fairy Tales You Thought You Knew

We all know how the fairy tales go: Stepmothers are invariably wicked. Stepsisters, ditto. Even porridge-eating bears are terrifying. A handful of magic beans, and Jack the not-so-bright son turns into Jack the giant-slaying hero. The big bad wolf is, well, big and bad.

Or maybe not.

Once Upon a Different Story retells five classic fairy tales from another point of view. I can’t be sure this is what really happened, of course. But this is the way I heard it, in their own words, from characters who have been misunderstood or overlooked for years. These stories were told to me in the voices of:

The Big Bureaucrat Wolf, a public servant with a clipboard and an attitude. “The guys say B. B. stands for Big and Bad, on account of I’m such a hardass in my building inspections. Most of them, they take a little cash on the side every now and then, to overlook stuff. Not me. But you wouldn’t believe some of the things I see. Like that little pig’s shack. It didn’t just violate every building code in the book; it violated logic, common sense, and the law of gravity. Hell, I didn’t even dare knock on the door for fear the whole flimsy mess would come down.”

The Murdered Giant’s Wife, traumatized by a tattooed drug dealer out of control. “Well, of course it all started because Jack found those beans. Magic beans, you Downlanders call them, but there’s nothing magic about them, really. We all know how important the beans are to our diets and how dangerous they are to you. We all see the videos about Downlander addicts and how crazy and unpredictable they can get. So something we take seriously is bean control.”

The Fairest Queen of All, Snow White’s frustrated stepmother. “From the beginning, I did the best I could to make friends with Snow White and love her even though she didn’t love me back. I don’t think I could have managed without the magic mirror. It couldn’t help me deal with Snow White, but at least it simplified the other major challenge of being a queen: looking fabulous. Let’s face it, looking beautiful is what princesses and queens do. Nobody wants to know what we think; nobody cares how we feel. They just expect us to show up, look perfect, and smile graciously.”

The Determined Mama Bear, coping with a tiny golden-haired home invader and the child welfare system. “Poor little Goldie; everyone in our part of the forest knew about her. Out in the woods by herself, all hours of the day, when she should have been safe at home. And her only a little older than my Baby. Oh, I’m sure Goldie’s parents have plenty of problems of their own. Usually I’m not one to judge people if I haven’t walked a mile in their paw prints, as the saying goes. But I don’t care what their issues were—it was no excuse for neglecting that sweet little girl the way they did.”

The Softhearted Stepsister, who can’t see the charm in Cinderella’s anti-royal crusading. “‘Oh my God! That’s Cinderella!’ Jane’s shriek made me drop my sociology book and focus on the television. A hunky young reporter with perfect hair and gleaming teeth was in front of the palace, reporting live on the latest demonstration from the anti-aristocracy group calling themselves “Unoccupy the Throne.” The camera zoomed in on a slender girl carrying a sign so big she could barely balance it. I could see why they chose our little sister. Even in ragged jeans and a scruffy sweatshirt, Cinderella was beautiful.”

Once Upon a Different Story is available in print and ebook formats. You can find out more about it here.

Categories: Just For Fun | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.